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India must respond with deliberation

INDIA needs to respond carefully to the US- sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution calling on all states to sign the Nuclear Non- proliferation Treaty ( NPT) and sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ( CTBT).

We are one of the four countries in the world -- Israel, Pakistan and North Korea being the others -- which are not party to the Nuclear Non- proliferation Treaty ( NPT) of 1968. India has vigorously opposed the NPT from the outset because of its discriminatory nature that grants only five countries the right to hold nuclear weapons. These powers were supposed to rid the world of nuclear weapons, but nothing of the sort has happened till now. Yet another grand reiteration is now being made even while the nuclear " haves" continue to hold and refine their arsenals.

For the present India has merely reiterated its existing policy and declared that it will not sign the NPT. Perhaps it would be prudent to take a more nuanced position on the issue. India has signed a civil nuclear agreement with the United States which has been approved by some 40 other industrialised countries belonging to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

This agreement more or less accepts India's status as a nuclear weapons state.

India is being asked to sign the NPT as a " non weapon" state which is the only status available for a country that did not conduct its nuclear weapons test before January 1, 1967. New Delhi should say that it is willing to do so if the unique status it has been granted by the NSG is accepted.

The Indian position has been somewhat confusing on the CTBT. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had told the UN General Assembly that India will not stand in the way of its coming into force.

Which is another way of saying India will sign it. But the current government has said it will not sign the CTBT. But once the Big Five ratify the treaty, India will find it difficult to say no. If we intend to persist on our refusal, we need to be better prepared for the eventuality.

Evasive response

THERE is a somewhat bewildering edge to the press conference of Department of Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar and his predecessor R. Chidambaram. They asserted, based presumably on the same data that was impugned by K. Santhanam, the erstwhile field director of the tests, that all the Pokhran II tests, including the thermonuclear one, were successful.

Santhanam has said that the DRDO instrumentation in the test range came up with a set of data that pointed to a possible failure of the thermonuclear test. This newspaper has subsequently come up with the revelation that seismic instruments maintained by the Research & Analysis Wing's Aviation Research Centre in Karnal, too, had questioned the success of the thermonuclear test.

For the DAE to say that they are right, based on the same 1998 data that is being questioned, is, to say the least, baffling.

There is, of course, the other mystery. Just why did Mr Santhanam take eleven years to come out with his revelations? He says that he gave the government a detailed report based on the DRDO measurements at the time. The net effect of his revelations now has been to seriously erode the credibility of the Indian deterrent.

The government therefore needs to go beyond the ritual affirmation of the success of the 1998 tests. The argument cannot be clinched through a public debate. There are certain things -- the depth of the shaft in which the thermonuclear device was emplaced, or the actual values of the emissions of radioisotopes of sodium 22 and manganese 24 -- that are not known and cannot be revealed officially because they could reveal information on the design of the device.

The obvious answer then is for the government to set up a blue- ribbon panel, comprising known experts in the field, who have worked at high levels in the government in the past, and ask them to look into the issue. The inquiry's findings should remain confidential, though the government may have to adjust our strategy according to its findings.

But this is the only way through which we can put the issue firmly behind us.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Sep 26, 2009
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